Arundel executive, a Democrat, to speak at Ehrlich inauguration

Janet Owens is viewed as consensus builder

January 14, 2003|By Lynn Anderson and Ryan Davis | Lynn Anderson and Ryan Davis,SUN STAFF

Democrat Janet S. Owens, Anne Arundel County's top elected official, will address her largest audience yet as a featured speaker at Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s televised inauguration tomorrow.

Republican Ehrlich's choice of Owens over other county executives to appear on live television statewide points to her bridge-building abilities and rising-star status, political observers said yesterday.

"[Ehrlich] is working real hard at getting consensus builders, and she can be a big help," with the Robeys and Duncans," said Del. Theodore Sophocleus, a Linthicum Democrat, referring to Howard County Executive James N. Robey and Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, Democrats who meet regularly with Owens to discuss regional issues. Through a spokeswoman, Owens declined to comment yesterday and no one from Ehrlich's transition team responded to phone calls.

But some observers said Owens -- whose brief remarks will be made outside the State House -- is reaping her political reward.

She never endorsed departing Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's bid against Ehrlich because she did not want to tie herself to a potential loser when Townsend's campaign was faltering. Robey and Duncan endorsed Townsend.

Owens also wanted to win the votes of conservatives in a Republican-leaning county. Ehrlich won 65 percent of votes in Anne Arundel County.

"It's highly significant that she is doing that, and it's also very appropriate," said Owens political appointee and Cabinet member Carl O. Snowden, who recently has been talking up his boss as a potential candidate for governor, lieutenant governor, or U.S. senator. "This is, of course, a county that [Ehrlich] won."

Snowden said that Owens' selection to participate in the inauguration is a "good omen" for the county executive as well as for the county. "I think you'll see more of her in different formats," said Snowden.

Owens' staff members are focused on drumming up new opportunities for her to speak before committees during the General Assembly session. The county executive is looking for issues such as affordable housing and farmland preservation that will take her beyond county borders.

Other observers said that Ehrlich and Owens are in the same boat -- she oversees a politically conservative county, he will manage a Democratic state.

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